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MBA Admissions Clinic: The Luxury Marketing Aspirant

In the MBA Admissions Clinic, the Fortuna Admissions team of former admissions directors and associates from Wharton, INSEAD, HBS, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, IE, Duke Fuqua, Yale, NYU Stern and London Business School evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of MBA applicants and provide advice for improving the chances of getting in. The profiles are based on real people, although details have been changed to protect their identities.

clinic-marketingEmily has been progressing well in her marketing career across various legal and financial services firms, but she now wants to pursue her dream of working in the luxury goods industry. Will NYU Stern and HEC Paris see her passion and flair for this uber-competitive industry, and can she convince them of her commitment to this career path?

The Applicant

Emily, New York born and raised, graduated from Duke University where she majored in English and French and gained a solid 3.4 GPA. She is currently a Marketing Manager at American Express in New York. She got a 690 GMAT score which was fairly balanced across the verbal (81%) and quant (74%) sections, thanks to lots of preparation.

In her spare time, Emily enjoys acting in amateur theater, volunteering at youth clubs with informal acting classes, and traveling. With a love of accessories, she recently did a jewellery-making course, and now makes and sells jewellery on a small-scale basis through personal networks. She hopes, one day, to upscale and formalize this by starting her own venture.

Why an MBA?

More than anything, Emily wants to work in the industry she loves: luxury goods. She needs an MBA with a curriculum that offers a luxury goods focus to build up her knowledge and networks, in order to forge a successful career in this industry.

The Background

Since graduating, Emily worked her way up in various marketing roles across two prestigious law firms before taking her accruing marketing expertise to the financial services sector, working at Bank of America Merrill Lynch initially, and then American Express, where she has been a Marketing Manager since 2013 and leads a small team and product line. Emily now hopes to take her marketing career to the luxury goods industry, working for the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton or Tiffany & Co. She always knew she wanted to pursue this one day, but, like many of us, got a bit caught up in career progression and financial rewards. At 31 years old, she knows she needs to take a leap of faith and go after her dreams before it’s too late.

She has whittled down her b-school choices to NYU Stern and HEC Paris – all well known for strong luxury goods components and based in New York and Paris – two epicentres for luxury goods companies. She is particularly interested in the specializations that NYU and HEC Paris offer; NYU Stern in luxury marketing – perfect for her goals; and HEC Paris in luxury strategy. Emily has done a fair amount of research so far. She has visited NYU for an information session and sat in on a class, and managed to make some connections with alumni and students. She has done a lot of online research for HEC Paris and has attended a couple of their online events.

The Assessment

Emily has strong academics from a great university and has also proven her quant abilities with a decent GMAT score – which places her more or less in line with the average of the schools she is applying to (slightly below average for NYU). She has been doing well in her career at reputed companies and has already gained some management experience in leading a small team, a sizable budget and various projects successfully.

As she is on track for a further promotion soon, she is reluctant to tell her current manager about her intentions of pursuing an MBA. Her previous managers from Bank of America Merrill Lynch will be able to highlight her strengths well, however. Having moved companies a few times since graduating, Emily will need to reflect carefully on her career story, to avoid being branded as a ‘job hopper’ who lacks direction.

The Recommendation

First and foremost, Emily will have a task on her hands convincing the admissions committees that she is not simply pursuing an MBA because of a lack of career direction. She will need to come up with a cohesive story that explains the rationale behind her career choices so far, and really put across a strong understanding of the industry she hopes to break into, and how each of the schools will help her do that, drawing on specific elements of the curriculum/ experience. At HEC Paris, for example, she would have the opportunity to learn from the former CEO of Louis Vuitton and the author of ‘The Strategy of Luxury’, and at NYU she could partake in the ‘DBi… (Doing Business in…) program, where students travel for one week to Milan to study the high fashion and luxury industries at Stern’s partner school, Bocconi, with site visits to companies like Versace and Mantero. Expanding her networks and knowledge of the industry through the various relevant clubs and conferences at these schools will also be worth including in career-goal related essays.

Besides the professional elements that make these schools a good fit for her, she will need to also demonstrate her personal fit and understanding of each school’s culture – trying to convey her own values that are in line with those of the schools. NYU Stern, for example, is looking for students who embody their values of mutual support and collaboration and who will be passionate, engaged participants in their community. The admissions teams always like to see a high level of research and commitment through visits and interactions with their school. Emily has done a good job of this so far, but it will only strengthen her case to keep making an effort with each school. As it may be difficult to visit HEC Paris, she should make an extra effort to connect with their community; we’d recommend reaching out to the admissions office to see if they can connect her with alumni or students with similar goals to herself.

Due to the fiercely competitive nature of this industry, and to soothe admissions committee nerves about post-MBA placement, it will be helpful if Emily demonstrates her understanding that achieving her post-MBA goals may require a stepping stone approach, such as switching to retail initially, and then into luxury goods. Drawing on the fact that she has a strong personal interest in luxury goods, as well as a small scale jewellery business on the side, may help strengthen her case.

For HEC Paris in particular, Emily will need to convey her strong interest in being in an international, multicultural environment. Whilst she has no professional international experience, using her term abroad in Paris and emphasizing her love for travel and exploring new cultures will help.

We recommend she sits down with her chosen referees to talk through the strengths she would like to be highlighted with concrete examples – where possible aligning the content with what each b-school most values. It will be worth explaining why she hasn’t selected her current manager as one of her referees in the optional essays; mentioning she is on track for a promotion will put her in a good light professionally, but she should be careful to fully communicate her desire to do an MBA in order to achieve her goals, even with the pending promotion.

In addition to her professional achievements and academic strengths, Emily’s full and interesting life outside of work will be important to highlight where possible in each application, as they are what make her unique and interesting.

Can you get in to a top b-school? To be considered for analysis of your MBA application profile, post your profile and b-school ambitions below and the Fortuna Admissions team will provide their assessment and recommendations.

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